Everyone knows someone who sports a striking shade of sterling—to say nothing of Diane Keaton, Emmylou Harris, and the rest of the silver all-stars. And these gorgeous women don’t lack for sex appeal (71% of respondents in a Prevention poll say women with gray hair can be sexy, whereas 78% say the same for men). But even though many of us admire gray hair on others, we’re often averse to trying out the look ourselves, according to a recent study in Ageing & Society.
Many experts are wondering why: “Women can do so much to keep their faces and bodies looking young—there’s no need to think gray hair will necessarily make you look older,” says Rita Hazan, owner of the eponymous salon in New York City.
And everyone can pull off the look, says Diana Lewis Jewell, founder of Going Gray, Looking Great. “Women often tell me why they think gray hair won’t work with their eye color or skin tone. But the fact is, for every one of those preconceived notions, there’s an example to the contrary of someone who looks fabulous gray,” she says.
Read on for some inspiration—and a little education—that will help you answer the question of the ages for yourself: To gray or not to gray?
Why hair changes
“The process of going gray—which occurs as follicles stop producing melanin—is determined by DNA, not diet or other factors,” says David Bank, MD, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, NY. Although research on mice shows exercise may stave off the loss of hair pigment, while stress may speed up the process, these findings haven’t been replicated in humans. So even though it seems as if every president goes gray after a few months in office, there’s no proof (yet) that stress is the cause. Even the seemingly accelerated speed at which certain sections go gray (temples first for some, the crown area for others) and the exact shade of gray you get (white, charcoal, or any of the other variations) are genetically predetermined. “Your head has roughly 100,000 hair follicles, and each functions autonomously,” Bank explains. “If one runs out of melanin, even if you pluck the resulting gray hair, there will be no impact on surrounding follicles—nor is your lifestyle likely to affect the color.”